Songs for the Day After Christmas

I love the buildup to Christmas. I love the anticipation during the month of December. I love all of the music, TV specials, and Advent services at church before Christmas. I’m finding, though, that one of my favorite times during Christmas is the day and days after Christmas.

This year we had Christmas at our house. We didn’t feel like traveling and we had the ultimate bargaining chip, two little grandchildren. So everyone descended upon our house and it was chaos. Beautiful chaos, mind you, but chaos nonetheless. Here is where I have to reiterate that are very, very, (I’ll even add another very for emphasis) very blessed with our family. We don’t have the drama most families have at Christmas. We just have a loud, good time. Adriene’s parents had been staying with us for a couple days and my parents arrived in the morning. There were piles and piles of gifts to be opened, mostly for the girls, of course. All of the gifts were wonderful, my brother-in-law even delivered with some of my favorites of this year, though I have to say I don’t think I got anything I didn’t like. Still, it was chaos, beautiful chaos, and the girls were clearly overstimulated by all the noise and people. By the time evening came around, they were pretty fussy and irritable and so it was a bit of a rushed, hurried exit for everyone as they tried to leave before it got too dark and we contended with two unhappy infants. Then it was night and the house was quiet. The girls finally settled down and there was peace. And it was beautiful. The house was turned upside down and there were boxes and wrapping paper and opened gifts everywhere, but we’ll tend to that later. We sat in the low light in the house and played some Christmas music. There was peace. And it was beautiful.

I love the week after Christmas, because I usually have the week off from work and my schedule is usually pretty open. It’s a great time of reflection over the past year for me. I use the time to sort through junk in my office and throw out stuff I should have thrown out earlier in the year. I veg out and play video games for unreal amount of hours. Every year, some friends of mine have a small gathering where we play video games all night (this year was Rock Band, I totally nailed singing “Orange Crush” by REM. On Easy. But still.) and afterwards I love driving home and seeing all the Christmas lights in the towns around Atlanta one last time before everything is put up.

Some friends of mine leave their Christmas tree up all the way to January 6. Epiphany. Twelve days after Christmas (you know… “On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love gave to me….”) I don’t know how long our tree will stay up, but I like that Christmas doesn’t immediately vanish on December 25. I listen to a lot of Christmas music in December and I don’t like to totally cut it out on the day after Christmas, so I usually slowly phase it out and start mixing in other music. Terry Taylor has a song called “Song For the Day After Christmas” that reminds us to reflect and remember Christmas, even as we’re putting away all of the decorations and trying to lose all of that holiday weight. This year has brought a lot of big changes in our lives and for just a couple of days, it will be nice to reflect on the year before jumping head first into 2008.

The Darkest Night of The Year… With Kids

Ten years ago today I was in the process of deconstructing myself down to the foundation. I had to figure out what I wanted and what God wanted to do with me. I really had no idea about either of those two things, so I spent a lot of time alone. I guess at the time I was probably perceived as sulky and detached, but I hope not. During the week of winter solstice, I drove to Nashville and spent some time in Chattanooga on the way there. I wrote pages and pages of lousy prose and such during that time, but it was good to dump it all out my brain.

During the week, I got to see an Over the Rhine concert. I was in the process of redefining my musical tastes and I latched right on to the sound of Karin Bergquist and Linford Detweiler. Ten years later, I’m still eagerly listening to the music of Over the Rhine and building on that foundation I started. After starting over, one of the next tasks I started on was reconciling Christmas and coming to terms with it. I started to embrace both the sentimentalism (of which there was a lot in my past) and the tacky (of which there is a lot in my present) and be able to laugh and smile about it all while remembering there was a Truth underneath it all.

I always been told that Christmas changes when you have children. I guess part of it comes from buying gifts for your children. Of course, we aren’t buying very much in the area of gifts this year. That’s what grandparents are for! I think for me this year it has more of identifying with Mary and Joseph. No, we don’t have the Son of God in our house, just two little girls, but I understand some of the anticipation and anxiety that they must have had. I mean, I know how much anxiety I had when Adriene was pregnant (“will they make it out alive?”, “will they make it out with all four limbs?”, “will one jump out, slash my throat, and go on a rampage in the operating room, horror movie style?”) and I have a lot of anxiety now (“will they be smart?”,”will they be motivated enough to get jobs and not move back into the house with us when they are 25?”,”will they irritate me every day crying for Elmo toys?”,”will one of them pull a Jamie Lynn Spears on me and end up pregnant at 16?”) I can only imagine how much anxiety filled Mary and Joseph.

I know Mary must have had a lot of anxiety when the angel told her that he was to be the father of the man who would die for the world’s sins. That’s why I love that one of the first things that the angel said to her was “do not be afraid!” Fear. It keeps the 24-hour media channels in business. We can’t turn away without looking to see what country, what politician, what war, what natural disaster is threatening us next. But God tells us not to be afraid, even to Mary in the imminent foreboding that her unborn son will die a horrifying, agonizing death. Do not be afraid.

So, with an election year coming up, let the politicians promise us things they can’t deliver. Let them try to scare us with certain doom if they are not elected. Let the talking heads on TV spread their fear of what will happen if this person or that person is elected or is not elected. I will not be afraid, nor will I be afraid for the two little girls in our house. We will trust the little baby, almost the size that they are now, who became Son of Man and Son of God.

My Favorite Music of 2007

The Grammy Nominations for 2007 came out a couple weeks ago and I have to confess, I didn’t recognize half of the songs. I haven’t even heard them. I don’t know if it’s indicative of my decreasing interest in pop music or the declining quality of the music industry, but I’m just not interested in listening to what MTV and VH1 tell me I should be listening to. So, I don’t know if I’m truly qualified to create a “Best of 2007” list of music because I haven’t heard a lot of what’s out there, but I am going to create a list of “stuff I really liked in 2007”. We’ll call it My Favorite Music of 2007, in no particular order.

Anberlin – Cities
Every album seems to be better than the previous one, and yet, I still get the feeling that Anberlin hasn’t peaked yet. They are getting close, though. They really do sound like “Arena Rock for Generation Y Kids” to me, but that’s ok, because it rocks nonetheless. Favorite Tracks: The trio of “The Unwinding Cable Car”, “There Is No Mathematics To Love And Loss”, and “Hello Alone” are a great back-to-back-to-back sequence, and the unbelievably sappy “Inevitable” is fun, too.

Ruth – Secondhand Dreaming
It sounds a lot like Third Eye Blind, but I like this a lot more than Third Eye Blind. Maybe it’s because the lyrics are a little more serious and not so dippy. It’s great summer-time rock that you just want to take on a road trip. Favorite Tracks: “Mr. Turner”, “Here To New York” and the title track.

Derek Webb – The Ringing Bell
It would be short and Beatlesey sweet if it didn’t have such gravity to the lyrics. Derek Webb is not afraid to tackle anything, even his own critics. The difference between this album and his previous two albums is that the songs are short and catchy, and Webb ties some of his own personal life into the songs. Favorite Tracks: “I Wanna Marry You All Over Again” which has given single Christians everywhere their new favorite lyric and the infectiously catchy “Can’t Be Without You.” Webb also mixes in thought provoking songs also like “A Love That’s Stronger Than Our Fear” to keep the listener from getting too comfortable, too.

Over the Rhine – The Trumpet Child
This another politically conscious, but irresistibly romantic album. Karin Bergquist’s voice has been married with horns and strings in lush instrumentation that adds a lot of depth to the sound of Over the Rhine. Linford Detweiler is deft as always on keys and lyrically and even contributes a rare spoken-word piece to the album. Favorite Tracks: Let’s just go ahead and say all six of the first songs on the album, which I can listen to straight through in one block with a stupid grin on my face. “Don’t Wait for Tom” is also a raucous fun piece of work.

Mae – Singularity
The Everglow had a little more consistent flow aided by the common theme of the album and this one feels really uneven to me. But when it’s good, it’s so good. The songs get into your head and won’t get out. Favorite Tracks: “Brink of Disaster” and “Crazy Eights” might be my most favorite back-to-back opening tracks on an album ever. I also love “Home” and “Just Let Go.”

Future of Forestry – Twilight
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the anthemic opening track and the rest of the album shows a lot of promise as well. I’m really hoping this band continues to develop and produce music. Favorite Tracks: “Open Wide”, “Speak To Me Gently”, “Stay Beside Me”

Caedmon’s Call – Overdressed
The big news is that Derek Webb is back with the band, but the real strength of the album is Andrew Osenga’s guitar work and lyrics providing a strong infrastructure to the songs. His contributions to the album rival Webb’s in quality. It’s fun to have Caedmon’s Call no longer under the thumb of the Christian Music industry. Favorite Tracks: “There Is A Reason”, “Share In The Blame”, “Hold The Light”, “Start Again”, and the unbelievably amazing “Ten Thousand Angels.”

Swirling Eddies – The Midget, The Speck, and The Molecule
This one caught me by surprise, I only picked it up a couple weeks ago and it has gotten lots of attention from me. The Swirling Eddies are Terry Taylor’s anonymous band that he uses to show his more sarcastic, sardonic side. Normally Taylor uses the Eddies to poke fun at Christian sub-culture, but on this album, Taylor spends more time poking fun at himself, lamenting the life of an old rock star. There’s lots of rollicking fun on this album, and even though the band members are anonymous, it’s not too hard to figure out who is backing Taylor up here. Favorite tracks: “It All Depends”, “Salton Sea”, “Tremolo”, “A Humble Man Rises.”

All The Day Holiday – We’ll Be Walking On Air
Admittedly, I haven’t actually bought this EP yet, but it’s just a matter of time. I’ve been listening to the tracks on their MySpace site ever since seeing them at Cornerstone and I’ll be ordering this CD very soon. It’s the frenetic pace of Mute Math crossed with the bleeding heart vocals of Dashboard Confessional. Favorite Tracks: “Atmosphere”, “Fingerprints”

When All Else Fails, Go Look At Christmas Lights

I’m going to confess a little secret here. I’m really not very good with babies. That’s not so good for someone that has two of them currently in his house. Babies cry when I hold them and I have no idea what I’m doing most of the time. Fortunately, my girls seem to like me a little more than most babies do. Thank goodness someday they will become children and we can do things like go to the playground, play ball together, read stories together, do homework, and other such stuff that actually sounds fun, but in the meantime I have two babies. That I’m not very good with.

I did find one thing that I am decent at this week. The girls had their vaccines earlier and while Erin seems to be taking it well, it’s been a rough week for Gracie. She has been unhappy and inconsolable a couple of evenings this week and cries and screams for hours. When all else fails, no food, no holding, no diaper change, no tylenol seems to work, I finally found something that will calm her down. I strap her into her car seat, put her in the car, and drive her around for about 30-45 minutes when she finally calms down and goes to sleep, leaving a quiet house for mom and Erin.

Much like watching football late night was a fall ritual for me that turned into something that aided me in caring for babies this fall as I watched games late into the night with a baby in one hand and a bottle in the other, it would seem that a winter ritual is aiding me now. Every winter, Adriene and I would get into the car and drive around the nearby neighborhoods looking a Christmas lights at night. This year, Gracie and I have had two dates already, as I’ve driven around our familiar locations (the best stuff is in Walker’s Ridge, there’s a whole street of endless lights, I’m sneaking over there with a camera sometime this year.) looking at the Christmas lights. I usually put Over the Rhine’s The Darkest Night of the Year on the car CD player (which, by the way, works as a lullabye CD as well, putting babies to sleep) and drive around a bit. By the time I get home, I have a sleeping baby for a relieved mom who can finally give her a bottle and settle her down for the night.

I’m not good with babies, but at least I’m able to do something well with them and that’s encouraging. Again, my seasonal rituals are re-introducing themselves in new ways that create new memories.